The Meaning of the Edelweiss Flower
Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) is a small alpine plant that is native to mountainous European locations including the Pyrenees, Alps and Carpathians. It is part of the large sunflower family (Asteraceae).
It has long been popular in Europe and acquired symbolic, historic and other meanings. In North America, where it's hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7, alpine plant enthusiasts sometimes grow edelweiss in rock gardens, raised beds or containers.
National Significance of Edelweiss
Edelweiss, a tenacious mountain plant, is the national flower of both Austria and Switzerland. Known in Austria as the "Queen of Flowers," edelweiss adorns the Euro currency issued by that country.
Military members of the German Mountain Soldiers earn the edelweiss badge for their proficiency in conquering difficult, daunting alpine terrain.
In Switzerland, the flower is strictly protected in the wild, as it is in Austria, Germany, France and Italy.
Meaning of the Common Name
"Edelweiss" comes from two German words. "Edel" means "nobility" and "weiss" is the German word for "white." The meaning of edelweiss is probably what gave rise to the plant's traditional meaning in the Language of Flowers.
The small blossoms represent daring, noble courage and devotion. The association with courage may also have to do with the fact that obtaining edelweiss from mountain crags for a bouquet took skill and courage on the part of the flower gatherer.
"Edelweiss" comes from two German words. "Edel" means "nobility" and "weiss" is the German word for "white."
Meaning of the Scientific Name
The scientific name for edelweiss, Leontopodium alpinum, is derived from the Greek words for lion (leon) and foot (podion) because of the plant’s resemblance to the hairy paws of a lion. Alpinum is the Latin word for Alpine, or of the Alps.
Musical Significance of Edelweiss
Many people know about the edelweiss flower because of the song, "Edelweiss," written by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II for the musical "The Sound of Music," which had its Broadway premiere in 1959. Based on a true story, the musical tells the story of a young postulant who goes to work caring for the seven children of a widower.
The song, sung by Captain von Trapp as well as by the von Trapp family singers during a concert after the Captain is pressured to join the Nazi navy, symbolizes the spirit of Austrian patriotism in the face of the 1939 Nazi invasion.
Historical Significance of Edelweiss
The simplicity of the flower contrasts with the importance of some of its most ardent admirers. Among those are Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, who ruled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and his wife, the fashionable Empress Elizabeth.
Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany loved edelweiss, as did another notable 19th-century monarch, Ludwig II, known as the "Mad" King of Bavaria. Ludwig is remembered for his fanciful castles, including Schloss Neuschwanstein, after which Disney's "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty"castles were modeled.
Medicines and Flavorings
Edelweiss infusions have traditionally been used to address various ailments including diphtheria and tuberculosis. Extracts and dried plant parts are used in soaps and anti-aging skin creams. Edelweiss extract has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties as well as antioxidants.
Plant parts may have also been used historically as a talisman to ward off evil and encourage love.
Edelweiss has also been used to flavor beer and wine. The Edelweiss brand of Austrian beer uses a recipe dating to 1646, producing a fruity, aromatic wheat beer with undertones of banana.
Meg Jernigan is a lifelong gardener who grew up on a farm in upstate New york. Her appreciation of the art ranges from the simple joys of a backyard garden to the benefits of xeriscaping. Jernigan's writing on gardening, home improvement and travel appears both online and in print.